The New Jersey Democrat, back in the Capitol for a whirlwind day during a break in his corruption trial in Newark, refused to say what he would do if he were convicted.
“I have no intention of being anything but exonerated,” Menendez told CNN. “So therefore, I’m not contemplating anything but reelection next year.”
Reminded there was a possibility he could be convicted, Menendez said: “That’s a possibility for you, not for me.”
A Suffolk poll last month that said 84% of likely New Jersey voters say he should resign if convicted.
Prosecutors accuse Menendez of personally pressuring former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other federal officials to intervene in a multimillion-dollar dispute his friend, Dr. Salomon Melgen, had with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over his billing practice for the eye drug Lucentis. The indictment charges Menendez with accepting political donations and other perks from Melgen in return for helping him with the dispute. Menendez and Melgen deny the charges.
If Menendez were convicted, it could put Democrats in a bind.
If he decided to hang onto his seat following a conviction, Democrats would almost certainly face pressure to vote for Menendez’s expulsion — something that would require the support of two-thirds of the body, or 67 members. Yet if Menendez were to resign while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie remains in office, the Republican would pick a replacement.
But he could hold onto his seat until after a new governor is sworn into office in January, which could be Democrat Phil Murphy, who is heavily favored to win.
Or, Menendez may attempt to run for reelection in 2018 — if he’s exonerated or even if he’s appealing a conviction — and that could put a Senate seat in jeopardy at a time when Democrats are battling a difficult map to win back the majority.
“Well I’m not making an announcement for you on CNN,” Menendez said when asked if he would definitely run for reelection.
Asked how he could win reelection amid growing unpopularity, Menendez said: “I have no doubt that upon exoneration, and my record being — reminding people of New Jersey of my record in helping Sandy victims, and helping New Jersey create jobs, standing up for the health care of a million and a half New Jerseyans under the Affordable Care Act, and in our engagement in the world to make America safer, including New Jerseyans, that our poll numbers will rise, and I’ll be reelected.”
Menendez declined to comment on whether he believes he’d been treated fairly in the court, and would not say if he’d call on the former Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, to testify in his defense. Prosecutors do not plan to call Reid to testify.
“I’m not going to speak about the trial,” Menendez said. “I’ll make my case in court.”
By Manu Raju, Senior Congressional Correspondent